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Great Offices of State

Every monarch has an individual seal - a symbol of status and authority as Head of State. The reverse of George V's first seal (designed by Gilbert Bayes) shows the King on the deck of a battleship.
Every monarch has an individual seal - a symbol of status and authority as Head of State. The reverse of George V's first seal (designed by Gilbert Bayes) shows the King on the deck of a battleship.
©The National Archives

The Great Offices of State, created from the smaller body of advisors (and previously from the Privy Council), eventually became the Cabinet. The Great Offices of State are:

Lord High Steward

Since 1421 this post has rarely been filled, and then only temporarily for coronations and trials of peers in the House of Lords.

Lord High Chancellor

Acts as keeper of the great seal of the realm. The great seal is used to show the monarch's approval of important legislation. The post remains in use and the Lord High Chancellor can be part of the Cabinet.

Lord High Treasurer

Head of the Treasury is responsible for government finances and spending. From the 17th century up until 1714 the post was held by a board of individuals - the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury (the Treasury Board). This practice became permanent and as a result the position of Lord High Treasurer became defunct. The Treasury Board itself soon fell out of use, with the exception that the politician asked to form a government (the Prime Minister) by the monarch became the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer the Second Lord of the Treasury.

Lord President of the Council

President of the Privy Council remains in use today and is also a member of the Cabinet. The Privy Council meets every month, wherever the sovereign is residing, to give formal approval to Orders-in-Council. Only a small number of Privy Councilors have to attend each meeting and do so only at the invitation of the government.

Lord Privy Seal

Orginally responsible for the monarch's private (privy) seal. By the 20th century the post had evolved into a political position, but had no ministerial responsibilities. This allowed the holder to act on such issues as the Prime Minsiter or Cabinet desired. The post frequently held a seat in the Cabinet.

Lord Great Chamberlain

Not a political post and not part of the government or Cabinet, this post is essentially ceremonial. Duties regarding coronations, the opening of parliament and responsibilities for the Palace of Westminster fall to the Lord Great Chamberlain in conjuction with the Earl Marshal. It is hereditary, and for complex reasons is held by several individuals. 

Lord High Constable

A ceremonial position and not part of government or Cabinet. This post was merged with the crown during Henry VIII's reign and only temporarily exists as a separate office when the coronation of a monarch takes place.

Earl Marshal

A ceremonial position and not part of government or Cabinet. The importance of this post declined during the early modern period and the holder is now head of the College of Arms (the authority on all matters of heraldry). The post is hereditary and held by the Duke of Norfolk. As part of the post the Earl Marshal is supposed to organise coronations and the opening of Parliament in conjuction with the Lord Great Chamberlain.

Lord High Admiral

The post dates back to the 15th century. It ceased to be held by an individual in the early 18th century, held instead by the Admiralty Board (or Commissioners for Exercising the Office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain). The First Lord of the Admiralty was head of the board, the political head of the Royal Navy and the inheritor of the post of Lord High Admiral. When the Admiralty was disolved by the creation of the Ministry of Defence in 1964, the post was vested in the monarch.